Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Will justice ever prevail in the Cambodian genocide?

Between 1975 and 1979 the Khmer Rouge murdered an estimated two million Cambodians. The horror ended when the Khmer Rouge were toppled from power by Vietnam in January of 1979 although the Khmer Rouge controlled parts of western Cambodia for years after the Vietnamese invasion.

The Cambodian Tribunal was set up in 1997 to investigate and prosecute crimes against humanity committed by members of the Khmer Rouge. However, funding for the work has been a problem from the beginning and the whole process faces the possibility of grounding to a halt. The other problem, of course, is because of the long drawn out process the aging suspects and defendants will die of old age without ever facing justice.

This from the International Herald Tribune:

With five former leaders of the Khmer Rouge finally in custody awaiting trial — three decades after their murderous regime tumbled from power — Cambodia's U.N.-backed genocide tribunal can credibly say it is on the road to justice.

But its future hinges on the generosity of foreign aid donors who, responding to reports of alleged corruption and mismanagement by tribunal officials, are demanding greater accountability before agreeing to give more money.

The process took a big step forward last month when Kaing Guek Eav, the head of a notorious torture center, became the first major Khmer Rouge figure to appear as a defendant in a public courtroom, appealing unsuccessfully for release on bail.

He and four other suspects — Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary, Ieng Thirith and Khieu Samphan — are being held in the tribunal's custom-built jail, awaiting trial on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

But the tribunal says more work is needed to get to full-fledged trials to establish responsibility for the deaths of some 1.7 million Cambodians under the communist Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s.

The tribunal is appealing for an unspecified additional sum on top of its budgeted $56.3 million, saying a heavy workload means that its operation, originally supposed to end in 2009, has to be extended through 2010.

Peter Foster, a U.N.-appointed spokesman for the tribunal, said the present funds may run out in about six months due to unanticipated costs.

"We're not talking about buying fleets of Mercedes and helicopters; we're talking about essential elements of an international court," he said.

For instance, said Helen Jarvis, the tribunal's Australian public affairs chief, the court needs to increase the number of translators to 40 from the current 14, and to create victim support and court transcription services.

Donors raised concerns after two U.N. reports this year painted a troubling picture of the tribunal's administration.

One of them, sidestepping allegations of corruption, accused the Cambodian side of serious mismanagement.

The other found problems in sharing responsibilities between Cambodian and foreign personnel, operating under Cambodian law.

To win more funding, the tribunal must show it can function "efficiently and devoid of corruption," David Scheffer, a former U.S. war crimes ambassador and a professor at the Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago, said in an e-mail.

"The worst-case scenario is that the international staff and administration would have to pull out and the trials would proceed in a strictly Cambodian-staffed court," he said.

Joseph Mussomeli, the U.S. ambassador to Cambodia, said the United States, which did not contribute to the original budget, is considering whether to pitch in. Washington harbors widely shared doubts about the competence and impartiality of Cambodia's courts.

"It would simply be irresponsible to suggest using American taxpayer money until we're sure that the administrative process is also fixed," he said.

In the meantime, hundreds of Buddhist monks and nuns marched in Cambodia on Christmas day in support of the upcoming trials. The Khmer Rouge had targeted various religious institutions – churches, mosques and temples – for destruction. According to the BBC,

Muslim and Christian leaders joined the Buddhist monks and nuns to demonstrate their support for the tribunal.

They came from around the country and marched to the special courts on the outskirts of the capital, Phnom Penh.

The organisers said the trials would be crucial in helping Cambodia to forget its troubled past and look to the future.

The marchers were welcomed at the courts and granted a question and answer session with officials.

A spokesman for the tribunal said the marchers were told the courts were working for them.

The Khmer Rouge forcibly defrocked Buddhist monks - and closed their pagodas.

They also massacred Muslims who refused to renounce their faith, and destroyed Christian churches.

Cambodia is an overwhelmingly Buddhist country.

But holding the march on Christmas Day served to draw attention to the international nature of the Khmer Rouge tribunal.

Legal officials from around the world are working at the special courts. Next month, the tribunal will appeal to international donors for tens of millions of dollars in extra funding.

Without the cash, the long-awaited process could grind to a halt.

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